Pulling Back the Curtain
Who's behind a right-wing group
with racist views that's ensnared pols from both parties?
By Matt Bai
Newsweek, February 1, 1999
No one would ever accuse Mike Moore of being a
white supremacist. Mississippi's attorney general recently reopenedand
wona 33-year-old murder case against Sam Bowers, a former
Klansman who will now spend the rest of his life in prison. "We're
trying to right the wrongs of the past in Mississippi," says
Moore, a Democratic star. So how could he have ended up at a political
rally sponsored by the Council of Conservative Citizensa
self-described "pro-white" group that also hosted Republicans
Trent Lott and Bob Barr? "I don't know anything about [the
CCC]," a confused Moore told NEWSWEEK. "I'm on the other
side." But Moore acknowledges that he probably did attend
the candidates' rally. So do dozens of candidates in races from
county judge to the governor.
How did the Council of Conservative Citizens,
whose members oppose intermarriage and "the civil-rights
culture," manage to get close to so many mainstream politicians?
In part, at least, because the council played down its more extremist
views in order to appear legitimate. The candidates' rallies didn't
feature any hateful speeches by council members. Barr says he
received a packet of information on the group that happened to
leave out the part about wanting to separate the races. He and
Lott both recently acknowledged that they had spoken to the organization
but insisted they had no idea what it stood for, even though anyone
could have figured that out by reading its literature or scanning
its Web site. Then it surfaced that the Republican national committeeman
from South Carolina, Buddy Witherspoon, was a member. (The party's
national chairman, Jim Nicholson, promptly asked him to drop his
affiliation, but Witherspoon refused.) As it turns out, the council
stretches well across party lines; more than 30 members of the
Mississippi legislature, Republicans and Democrats, were said
to be members. The CCC is a case study in hate masquerading as
politicsand a sign that the worst elements of the Old South
are still very much alive in the New.
The council, which was founded in the mid-1980s
by veterans of the notorious white Citizens Councils, which opposed
integration, is run out of the suburban St. Louis home of Gordon
Lee Baum. A 58-year-old personal-injury lawyer, Baum plays down
the council's more extreme writings. "We're not out here
in a cornfield burning crosses at midnight," he says of his
15,000 members. But on its Web site, the group assails the "twisted
dream" of Martin Luther King Jr. and accuses civil-rights
activists of "hate-mongering." One of the group's 29
directors has written that whites are "superior" to
blacks in several areas, including "intelligence," "law-abidingness"
and "resistance to disease."
How much did folks like Barr and Lott really know
about the group? Barr insists he was misinformed. "I find
your views on racial issues repugnant," he wrote the council.
Lott has a longer history with the group. His favorite uncle,
89-year-old Arnie Watson, is a member. ("The Bible says every
race should stay within the bounds of its habitat," he said
in an interview.) Watson says he doesn't remember ever discussing
the group's agenda with the majority leader, but he claims Lott
was an honorary member when he was in the House. Lott has said
he didn't accept any kind of membership. What lured politicians
of both parties is that the council claimed to embrace some core
issuesfrom lower taxes to saving the Confederate flagthat
are popular throughout the South. They probably should have known
better. They certainly do now.